It can sometimes be difficult to make the connection between doctorate-level qualifications and the world of work. However, Otago Polytechnic’s newly launched Doctor of Professional Practice is helping to join the dots.

While the thought of further postgrad study is appealing to many people, it isn’t always clear what relevance specialised learning and research will have to their jobs.

Otago Polytechnic sought to bridge the gap with the introduction of their first doctorate – the Doctor of Professional Practice. The course is aimed at experienced professionals who wish to take their learning to a higher level. While a doctorate typically requires people to take a break from their work, this one allows people to work and study at the same time.

The doctorate is an extension of Otago Polytech’s other professional practice qualifications. Five years ago, the polytech introduced a graduate diploma in this area, followed by a master’s.



“The master’s was a roaring success” says Otago Polytechnic Chief Executive Phil Ker, “But just as we experienced with those who completed the graduate diploma, the master’s graduates were asking ‘what’s next for me?’”

This led the polytech to design the doctorate, which Ker describes as an “innovative, learner-centred qualification that will generate and apply new knowledge in the workplace”.

“It is a learner-centred approach that will make a difference in our communities,” he says.

Capable NZ Professor Samuel Mann led the team that developed the final version of the qualification and worked with NZQA to bring it to fruition.

“Students will use substantial and novel research to address ‘wicked’ or new problems within their professions. It’s all about emergent frameworks of practice – they’ll see a change in professional practice for themselves, their organisation and their wider community,” says Mann.

What is professional practice?

Otago Polytech’s interest in professional practice actually stems back to when they established Capable NZ 15 years ago. This started out with assessments of prior learning and has evolved to a full-blown learning model based around prior learning.

“We’ve carved out a strong market among adult learners in the workplace who are under- or un-credentialled,” says Ker. “What we came to realise is that there is strong demand to engage in learning that is about them, not off the shelf.”

Otago’s focus on prior learning then evolved into professional practice. Ker believes their approach is unique.

“We’re surprised more haven’t adopted it. We’re pleased they haven’t, but surprised nonetheless!”

Otago looked to Middlesex University in London for guidance on the qualifications themselves. Middlesex is generally acknowledged as one of the leaders in the field of professional practice.

Ker describes the process they use as “intensely reflective”.

“The transformation we see is so effective. It works at undergrad and postgrad levels and teaches people how to learn.”

The doctorate course starts with an intensive reflective process, in which the candidates look closely at who they are and where they want to take their career. They set goals before embarking on the actual study of how to learn.

The beauty of the qualification is the ability to apply their research and learning directly into their workplace.

Ker says it is “desirable” to have the employer on board, as it becomes a three-way conversation between the candidate, the polytech and the employer. He acknowledges this isn’t always the case. If the employer isn’t prepared to invest, at the very least they need to be supportive, he says.

The other big ‘tick’ for the course is its flexibility. It’s a distance-facilitated course, meaning it can be taken anywhere. They’ve even had an expat in Bahrain completing the master’s course.

Breaking the glass ceiling

Doctorate level qualifications are usually the domain of universities, but Otago Polytech has pushed through that superficial barrier.

“This is the biggest academic news at Otago Polytechnic since degrees were approved in 1995. We’ve broken through the glass ceiling and have shown that we have the knowledge and history to provide doctorate level programmes,” says Mann.

Ker says they didn’t encounter any problems getting the doctorate programme approved.

“NZQA assured us they had no bias against polytechnics. I think it helped that we consciously specialised in professional practice.”

They are also taking a softly-softly approach, starting with just five learners. Mann says there are already 25 people wanting to start the qualification. They will look to increase the intake over time.

“We want to learn to walk before we run,” says Ker.


Exciting new qualification in Agritech space

Lincoln Hub, in partnership with Tech Futures Lab, is readying to launch a highly relevant business qualification for business professionals in the burgeoning field of agritech.

From this November, the two organisations will offer the Master of Applied Practice – Technological Futures. Individuals will gain access to a diverse network of experts and practitioners in this field and work to understand, create and develop business opportunities based on tech-enabled agriculture in New Zealand.

Agritech is a growing field globally with many innovations and advancements happening at a rapid pace and fundamentally reshaping how we farm, cultivate crops and rear animals. Agriculture has long been considered the backbone of New Zealand, and now agritech presents the opportunity to create sustainable economic growth.

Lincoln Hub is an innovation network and agri ecosystem with access to a worldwide network of agricultural expertise. It works with industry, education and science to create sustainable solutions to agricultural problems through new ways of thinking – focusing on the big opportunities in the agri sector. Tech Futures Lab is a technology, innovation and business learning hub for professionals.

Candidates of the new master’s programme will gain hands-on experience and see projects and research at work. They will also spend four weeks during the immersion phase of the programme with Lincoln Hub’s partners around the country.

Sarah Hindle, Tech Futures Lab general manager, says the new qualification will enable students to flesh out their ideas with “industry-backed research and real-world solutions”.

Source: Education Review

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